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SAN ANTONIO — Republican John Lujan has won the special election runoff for Texas House District 118, flipping the Democratic-friendly seat in San Antonio.
The victory by Lujan gives Republicans an early win in their drive to make new inroads in South Texas after President Joe Biden underperformed there last year.
With all vote centers reporting Tuesday night, Lujan was leading Democrat Frank Ramirez 51.2% to 48.8%, according to unofficial results. Lujan briefly held the seat in 2016, while Ramirez is a former staffer for the San Antonio City Council and at the Texas Legislature.
"I'm a blessed man to win this for the second time, and to be the only Republican ever to win this seat, I think, is really important for us down here," Lujan told The Texas Tribune as he left his election night party. He called his victory part of a "big movement ... for conservatism" in the Hispanic community.
Ramirez conceded in a statement.
"We didn’t make it over the line tonight," he said. "But we gave Texas Republicans a run for their money at every single step."
Lujan will replace former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned earlier this year to teach at San Antonio College.
The seat on San Antonio’s South Side favors Democrats and Biden carried it by 14 percentage points last year. But the GOP had gone all in to capture the seat, hoping to score an early victory in their quest to make new gains in South Texas after Biden's underwhelming numbers throughout the region.
One of Lujan's backers, the Associated Republicans of Texas, said in a statement that Lujan's election "marks the beginning of Republicans winning Democrat-held seats in South Texas in the 2022 election cycle."
Lujan's win was driven by a surge in Election Day votes. After losing the early vote by 2 percentage points, he won the ballots cast Tuesday by 10 points.
Lujan was the top finisher in the special election in late September, getting 42% of the vote, while Ramirez placed second with 20%. There were two other Democrats running, as well as one other Republican.
Despite the high stakes, the runoff featured little direct conflict between the two candidates. However, Democrats sought to make Lujan answer for his support from Gov. Greg Abbott and the staunchly conservative turn the state has taken this year under him. Lujan, a veteran firefighter and former Bexar County sheriff’s deputy, centered his campaign on less controversial issues like public safety and jobs.
Lujan maintained a wide financial advantage in the runoff. As of Tuesday, he had reported $446,000 in contributions to the Texas Ethics Commission since Sept. 19, while Ramirez had $254,000 in donations over the same period.
National and statewide groups on both sides poured money into the runoff, and dozens of House members got involved, lending their time and money to each candidate. Ramirez campaigned with Beto O’Rourke and other prominent state Democrats, while Lujan benefited from the support of Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.
The speaker in particular took a close interest in the race, the first contest he has seriously gotten involved in since winning the gavel in January.
Disclosure: San Antonio College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.